The Briefing 05-19-15

The Briefing 05-19-15

The Briefing


May 19, 2015

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


It’s Tuesday, May 19, 2015.  I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

1) Irish same sex marriage referendum shows division between radical Catholics and evangelicals

The nation of Ireland is poised to be the first nation on earth to put the question of same-sex marriage up for a national referendum, and the vote is coming on Friday. And make no mistake, it’s going to be a big vote; not only about the future of marriage in Ireland, but about the future of Ireland. And there are some huge issues involved in this story. As Fintan O’Toole reports for the New York Times yesterday, what we’re looking at is aligned to be added to the Irish Constitution that would read simply and I quote,

“Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex.”

Now when you’re looking at changes in the law or changes in a Constitution, the economy of words will really matter. In this case, a good deal is being made of just how short that sentence turns out to be. And it’s very interesting that here you have just a few words put in a series that will totally revolutionize marriage in the nation of Ireland by national referendum – that is of course if a majority of voters approved the measure. That is at least somewhat in question.

The nation of Ireland has been known as rather socially traditional when it comes to many issues for the better part of its history. Even until 1993 homosexual acts were criminal acts and it took an action of a European court to reverse that. You’re looking at a nation that has been dominated in terms of its tradition by the moral teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. And what we’re looking at here is only possible because of the rather radical rupture in terms of the spiritual dimension of Ireland that is taking place; the evidence of that is this vote on Friday. In any previous generation it would’ve been inconceivable.

Henry McDonald, writing from Dublin for The Guardian, which is a liberal London newspaper, has given the most interesting attention to this dimension of the story. As he writes,

“Tens of thousands of Christian immigrants who have become Irish citizens are being mobilised across the Republic to vote down a historic move to legalise gay marriage in Ireland this week.”

The next words are particularly interesting,

“While liberal Roman Catholic priests and nuns are defying their bishops to urge a yes vote on Friday, religious leaders in the evangelical Christian community are now placing their congregations on the frontline of the battle to persuade Ireland to say no.”

So this could be one of the most interesting dimensions of this turn in Ireland. It could turn out that the opposition to the legalization of same-sex marriage in Ireland is indeed theological, but not coming from the tradition of the Roman Catholic Church, but rather from an influx of immigrants who are overwhelmingly evangelical and thus biblical in terms of their opposition. This is a very interesting development.

By the way, this has exposed all kinds of tensions within Ireland. This article in The Guardian makes very clear that there are many in Ireland who believes that the influx of these conservative immigrants is a problem rather than a blessing. And of course the influx of evangelicals, well that’s something very telling in terms of Ireland and its national history.

The Guardian goes on to report that,

“The Irish Republic is the first country in the world to hold a referendum to decide on whether or not the state should allow gay marriage. If passed, the right of gay couples to marry will be incorporated into the Republic’s constitution.”

Then they describe the two corners in terms of this opposition, this controversy. They say in the yes corner are radical Catholic clergy such as Sister Stanislaus Kennedy, identified as a lifelong anti-poverty campaigner who backed to gay marriage just last week. On the no side, in that corner according to The Guardian, more than 30 born again Christian pastors originally from Africa and representing dozens of churches – they are urging their congregations to help defeat marriage equality.

So here you have a very liberal and secular newspaper in London looking at this emerging and developing story in Ireland saying, here you have Roman Catholic Church that is fast liberalizing on this issue with very prominent nuns and others who are breaking from the authority of their church and publicly supporting same-sex marriage. And then you have these who are coming from Africa – interesting how that is reported in this story – who are importing not only their evangelical Christianity, but their opposition to same-sex marriage; or as they would prefer to say it, their understanding from the authority of Scripture that marriage is and can only be the union of a man and a woman.

The Guardian tells us that organizers of what’s called an evangelical alliance for a no vote on the question of same-sex marriage believe that the votes of up to 200,000 African and Eastern European immigrants, many of them conservative Christians and some of them Muslims, could help swing the vote in favor of no on the Friday. As The Guardian says,

“Across the key battleground of Dublin, evangelical and Pentecostal pastors are actively encouraging their congregations to vote no.”

While there are certainly some Catholics who are opposing same-sex marriage in Ireland, there are some very well-known Catholics who are supporting it. I mentioned Sister Stan, as according to the paper she is affectionately known, she has been an anti-poverty campaigner, and she has now become a campaigner for same-sex marriage. In speaking of her position publicly she said and I quote,

“I have thought a lot about this. I am going to vote yes in recognition of the gay community as full members of society. They should have an entitlement to marry. It is a civil right and a human right.”

Well the issue to face most directly here is that you have a nun in the Roman Catholic Church who is directly advocating a position that is at odds with the official teaching of her own church, and even the instruction of the Catholic bishops there in Ireland. Recognizing just how symbolic same-sex marriage in Ireland would be, Fintan O’Toole, again writing in the New York Times yesterday, says that the legalization of same-sex marriage there may now consolidate he says same-sex marriage as the new normal in the developed world. He calls this evidence of how profoundly attitudes have changed. Griff Witte writing in the Washington Post makes a very similar assessment when it comes to this kind of moral change and the symbolism of Ireland when he writes,

“That such a momentous event in the gay rights struggle could happen here, of all places, reflects the breathtaking social change that has swept Ireland in recent years —”

Now what he calls a breathtaking social change is pointing to an even deeper worldview change, a deeper theological and ideological change, within the Irish people. In Fintan O’Toole’s article that appeared in yesterday’s edition of the New York Times, a woman by the name of Rita O’Connor is cited there in Dublin. She says and I quote,

“I’m just going to vote for gay people because I have nothing against them,”

She was speaking inside a Roman Catholic Cathedral, and she says,

I can’t understand why anybody is against it.”

O’Toole says she dismissed the Roman Catholic Church’s opposition saying,

“…it’s a stupid carry-on”

O’Toole points to this change within the thinking of so many Catholic people in Ireland and he says that change,

“…owes something to Pope Francis’s more conciliatory tone on homosexuality,”

Now that raises a very different issue. This Pope has sown confusion within the Roman Catholic Church over the issue of homosexuality and I would simply argue that you should draw a line between that confusion and the change you see taking place even within the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland. And for evangelical Christians there are some very important lessons there to be observed.

But when it comes that change, or that perception of change, within the Roman Catholic Church, last Friday Timothy Egan, writing another opinion piece for the New York Times, described how Francis is transforming the Roman Catholic Church to what he calls the art of joy. He then writes this,

“Francis’s predecessor, while a cardinal, once signed a letter saying homosexuality was ‘an objective disorder.’”

Now that paragraph is supposed to contrast the current Pope of the Roman Catholic Church with his predecessor, the retired Pope Benedict the 16th. And in order to make his point Egan goes back not to this Pope but to the previous Pope, but before he was Pope, when he was merely a cardinal when he wrote a letter in which he said that homosexuality was an objective disorder. In the context of this column you would think that was some kind of radical statement made by a Pope even before he was a Pope way back somewhere in terms of a Catholic legacy left behind. But let me read to you from the current official catechism of the Roman Catholic Church, fully affirmed not only by Pope Benedict the 16th but by Pope Francis as well. The current catechism, still everywhere in force of the Roman Catholic Church says this,

“Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that ‘homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.’ They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.”

That’s not from a letter someone dug up from a previous Pope even before he was Pope – that is the current catechism affirmed by this Pope. But you would know that by reading the New York Times. But as a matter fact you might not know it evidently if you’re a Roman Catholic in Dublin Ireland, which is why a good many Irish Roman Catholic Church are expected to vote for the legalization of same-sex marriage there in Ireland on Friday and why the focal point of opposition to the legalization of same-sex marriage turns out to be evangelicals – who after all have moved to Ireland largely from Africa. Once again, we see the global South very clear on the issue of marriage while the secularizing north is very confused.

2) Protestant church distinctives affirmed by political disasters made by Vatican

Next, it’s also important for us to think about the fact that the evangelical church, evangelical Christianity does not have a foreign-policy. We understand there are scriptural principles of righteousness and justice and fairness and peace that should drive our concern for foreign-policy, but the Southern Baptist Convention doesn’t have a foreign-policy. The national Association of Evangelicals doesn’t have a foreign-policy. American Protestant and Evangelical denominations don’t have foreign-policy. But the Roman Catholic Church has a foreign-policy. Largely because so many nations recognize the Vatican not only as the theological seat of the Roman Catholic Church, but as a sovereign state. Evangelicals have historically and rightly identified this as a major problem – one that is not sustainable. And there are two recent developments that point out why it is so problematic that the Vatican is recognized as a state with a foreign-policy.

In the first place, there was a very well-publicized visit to the Vatican of the Pres. of Cuba, Raul Castro. And according to all the international press, Raul Castro and the Pope had a very good visit. Indeed Raul Castro was quoted as saying,

“I read all the speeches of the pope, his commentaries, and if the pope continues this way, I will go back to praying and go back to the church, and I’m not joking,”

Well let’s just talk about the fact that as the Wall Street Journal points out, to call Raul Castro President is an absolute fiction. He was the only name on the ballot. That was about his Democratic as you could find in the nation of North Korea, and yet he was received in the Vatican as if he were the duly elected president of Cuba – which he certainly is not. Furthermore, the Castro brothers led a revolution in Cuba that was not only officially Marxist but officially atheist and they have led a regime that has cracked down on Christians and has violated religious liberty at virtually every conceivable turn. The big question for the Vatican is: how in the world is it good news that the Roman Catholic Church is becoming the kind of church that Raul Castro would want to be a member of?

The second development took place also in recent days when the Vatican state announced that it was moving towards the recognition of the Palestinian state as an autonomous state. Not especially from the vantage point of Israel, this is a very problematic development and even many American Catholics are scratching their heads to wonder what in the world is the point the Vatican’s trying to make by recognizing what calls itself the Palestinian state as an autonomous state. It simply doesn’t meet even the United Nations requirements of what a state must be, at least says that definition has been applied at any time in the past. Furthermore, the current head of the Palestinian state, Mahmoud Abbas, wrote his doctoral dissertation basically denying the reality of the Holocaust. This is one of those disasters that simply shouldn’t happen, but it is set up to happen when the Roman Catholic Church claims that the Vatican is not only the seat of its church government, but the seat of a national state as well. With that national state comes a foreign-policy and with that foreign-policy comes no shortage of trouble.

Evangelical Christians looking at these headlines in controversies are sometimes, at least in the present and especially perhaps in the United States, unaware or unmindful of the very deep theological reasons why evangelicals do not recognize the hierarchical authority of the Roman Catholic Church, in particular do not recognize the papacy and do not recognize the Vatican state as a state. The evangelical opposition to all of these is deeply rooted in the Reformation itself, and in the solas of the Reformation – that after all are not merely evangelical distinctive, but are the very heart of the evangelical understanding of Christianity, of the gospel, of biblical authority, and of the doctrine of justification – which is our salvation.

We should be very thankful that we have lived long enough to get over some of the very lamentable prejudice that was merely prejudice that separated Protestant evangelicals and Roman Catholics, but even as that prejudice and that animus has happily been removed, the theological issues that divide us have not gone away. The developments now in Ireland show that even in Ireland there are many Catholics who aren’t so Catholic after all. The real danger for evangelicals, even here in the United States, maybe especially here in the United States, is that many of those evangelicals aren’t so evangelical after all.

3) Luxembourg Prime Minister becomes first European leader to marry same sex partner

Finally, on this issue one of the story also from the New York Times also related to many of the same issues; Aurelien Breeden reports for the Times,

“The prime minister of Luxembourg on Friday wed his partner of several years in the first same-sex marriage of a European Union leader.”

The first head of government of a European union country has now been wed in a same-sex marriage ceremony. In this case it is Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel, who married Gauthier Destenay, a Belgian architect,

“…less than a year after lawmakers in Luxembourg overwhelmingly legalized same-sex marriage, a sign of shifting attitudes in the predominantly Roman Catholic duchy.”

Now it is predominantly Roman Catholic – 87% of those in Luxembourg are Roman Catholics. You’ll remember the Luxembourg is a little duchy that does border Belgium and France and Germany and evidently it’s also very much a part of the secularization that has been taking place in those countries and throughout northern Europe. And the evidence of that in this case is abundantly clear there in the photographs and all over the world of the first head of government of a European Union nation to wed a partner of the same-sex.

4) Justice Ginsberg presiding at same sex wedding affirms view of gay marriage as constitutional

But wait just a minute, let’s then shift to the United States of America where a very interesting story developed yesterday, also reported by the New York Times,

“The groom and groom strolled down the aisle to the mellow strains of ‘Mr. Sandman.’”

Notice the following words,

“Wearing her black robe with her signature white lace collar, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg presided over the marriage on Sunday afternoon of Michael Kahn, the longtime artistic director of the Shakespeare Theater Company in Washington, and Charles Mitchem, who works at an architecture firm in New York.”

So we’re not talking about Luxembourg, we’re not talking about Ireland, we’re talking about the United States of America – we’re talking about New York, and we’re talking about a justice of the Supreme Court presiding at a same-sex marriage ceremony – not her first – even as the Supreme Court is known to be dealing with the case that will involve the question of the legalization of same-sex marriage. She did so between the oral arguments held back in April and the eventual decision to be handed down we expect in June. One would think this to be a very unusual development to say the very least and it was the justice herself who indicated that she knows evidently just how unusual this was.

“But the most glittering moment for the crowd came during the ceremony. With a sly look and special emphasis on the word ‘Constitution,’ Justice Ginsburg said that she was pronouncing the two men married by the powers vested in her by the Constitution of the United States.”

Now let’s just ask the question: what if one of the well-known conservative members of the United States Supreme Court, expected perhaps to oppose the legalization of same-sex marriage, were somehow in their own sly way to try to give their own indication of how they have already decided the case even before the Supreme Court rules? Where would the New York Times editorial board be about that? But in this case the sly look was given by Ruth Bader Ginsburg, expected to be a very safe vote for same-sex marriage. And you’ll note that before the Supreme Court has ruled she, according to this news article, with a sly look and a special emphasis on the word Constitution, declared that she was pronouncing the two men married by the powers vested in her by the Constitution of the United States. Actually we should note, if they are married – and they were married in New York – they would be married under the laws of New York State, not under the laws of the federal government.

If this were published in any newspaper other than the New York Times we might disregarded it as something that would belong more in terms of the checkout lane in the grocery store, but this is the New York Times and thus I refer you to the continuation of the article:

“No one was sure if she was emphasizing her own beliefs or giving a hint to the outcome of the case the Supreme Court is considering whether to decide if same-sex marriage is constitutional.

“But the guests began applauding loudly, delighted either way. Justice Ginsburg, who has officiated at same-sex weddings in the past, also seemed delighted, either by their reaction or, perhaps, by the news that she will be played in a movie by Natalie Portman (who, in a strange casting segue, will play Jackie Kennedy Onassis in another film).”

The article concludes,

“Taking off her robe to reveal a glamorous jacket with a cream satin leaf motif, Justice Ginsburg reigned as belle of the same-sex ball.

“And the music, being the food of love, played on.”

Now I just ask you to be reminded, this was not on a tabloid in the grocery checkout line; this comes from no less than the New York Times yesterday. The world as we know it is changing right before our eyes, our responsibility as Christians is at least to understand what’s happening as we see it happen.


Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information go to my website at You can follow me on Twitter by going to For more information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary go to For information on Boyce College just go to We’re taking questions for Ask Anything: Weekend Edition released. Call us with your question, in your voice to 877-505-2058. That’s 877-505-2058.

I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

Podcast Transcript

1) Irish same sex marriage referendum shows division between radical Catholics and evangelicals

Ireland’s Marriage Equality Moment, New York Times (Fintan O’Toole)

‘New Irish’ Christians mobilise to vote no to gay marriage, The Guardian (Henry McDonald)

Ireland could be first nation to legalize same-sex marriage by popular vote, Washington Post (Griff Witte)

Pope Francis and the Art of Joy, New York Times (Timothy Egan)

2) Protestant church distinctives affirmed by political disasters made by Vatican

Castro: Pope Francis so impressive I might return to church, Washington Post (AP)

Vatican Officially Recognizes State Of Palestine, NPR (Krishnadev Calamur)

3) Luxembourg Prime Minister becomes first European leader to marry same sex partner

Luxembourg Premier Is First E.U. Leader to Marry Same-Sex Partner, New York Times (Aurelien Breeden)

4) Justice Ginsberg presiding at same sex wedding affirms view of gay marriage as constitutional

Presiding at Same-Sex Wedding, Ruth Bader Ginsburg Emphasizes the Word ‘Constitution’, New York Times (Maureen Dowd)

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

I am always glad to hear from readers. Write me using the contact form. Follow regular updates on Twitter at @albertmohler.

Subscribe via email for daily Briefings and more (unsubscribe at any time).